Michael O’Neill has stood solidly by James Chester during his short but sometimes bumpy first seven games at the club.
Chester joined Stoke on loan from Aston Villa until the end of the season and hasn’t always had it his own way.
But O’Neill has brought his man management to bear to back up his defender whenever needed – words that might point a finger towards him wanting to keep Chester long term.
After his signing, O’Neill declared: “James is a player who has great experience at both club and international level and I’ve no doubts he will be a valuable addition to our squad for the remaining 14 games of this season.”
And after his debut against Charlton, he added: “We’re bringing a player down whose pedigree is there, we know that with the level he’s at. And I thought he brought a bit of assurance to today that maybe at times has been missing.
“Conditions were difficult especially with the wind in the first half but he just settled us down.
“I thought him and Danny (Baath) built the game from the back as well, which isn’t easy into the breeze at times.
“I think as a whole the back four looked very assured and I think James’s presence is a big factor in that.”
Chester was thrown into the deep end by playing three games in his first week after only playing two games all season at Aston Villa.
Stoke began with a win over Charlton that first week of his, but his error led to Preston’s first in a 2-0 home defeat four days later and then he and the rest of the City defence were found wanting during a blustery 4-2 loss at QPR three days after that.
“It’s been a tough week for him,” O’Neill acknowledged at the time. “I thought he played really well against Charlton and Preston as well, but last week was a more difficult day for him and Danny (Batth) together.
“When you look at that game (QPR), and the position they play, it was a difficult day. Conditions made it difficult for defenders with the wind and the nature of the game. So we saw a lot of mistakes on both sides.
“James was disappointed in how he played, as was Danny, but they will be keen to make sure they address that.”
Chester suffered again in the dying moments of the 1-1 draw at Luton when his outstretched foot led to the penalty which deprived Stoke of two crucial points against one of their chief relegation rivals.
But O’Neill was sympathetic afterwards, exclaiming: “It seems fairly innocuous at the time, though I haven’t seen it back.
“There didn’t look much in it. It’s one of those where the player has come from behind him, possibly got a toe to the ball, but I don’t think there was very much in it.
“I’ve got loads of sympathy with the team.”